FRIDAY, Nov. 23 (HealthDay News) -- When kids have academic
problems, report cards make that clear to parents. And if a kid
skins a knee or breaks a bone, parents know what to do.
But detecting that a child is being bullied, and then knowing
how to react, may not be so clear-cut.
Kids often are reluctant to tell their parents they're being
bullied, making it difficult to know that they're having trouble
with other kids at school or online.
One thing that's very clear, however, is that bullying is not a
rare occurrence. About one in five kids reports being bullied at
school in the past 12 months, and another 16 percent have been
harassed online, according to a survey from the U.S. Centers for
Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC also found that 6 percent
of children and teens didn't go to school at least once in the
previous month because they were concerned for their safety.
Bullying "eats away at a young person's self-esteem," said Dan
Rauzi, a national bullying expert and senior director of technology
programs at the Boys & Girls Clubs of America. "It can cause
them to not want to go to school or get on the bus, they may not
want to go online and it affects learning in school."
Bullying also interferes with a child's social, emotional and
academic development, according to the American Academy of Child
and Adolescent Psychiatry. Sometimes the harassment is so severe
that bullying victims commit suicide, the academy reports.
So, what signs should a parent be watching for?
A child who's being bullied may be more anxious and fearful,
perhaps wanting to avoid school and social settings, according to
Victor Gardner, a child and adolescent psychologist with the Henry
Ford Health System in Detroit.
Children may complain of headaches, stomachaches and nausea, he
said. Or, they may develop low self-esteem and lack confidence.
Grades may drop, too. If the bullying is occurring online, the
child might stop participating in favorite online activities.
Some signs are more obvious, such as unexplained bruising, torn
clothing, missing items -- such as books, electronics or jewelry --
and noticeable changes in eating habits. For instance, bullying
experts say that kids might eat a great deal when coming home from
school because they didn't eat lunch because of some type of
"If you notice behavioral changes -- a previously happy child now seems sullen, angry and upset -- ask what's going on," Rauzi said. "Don't take the standard 'Nothing' or 'I'm fine' response. One of the reasons that young people don't tell adults what's going on is that they don't think anything will happen."
Ideally, parents will have had discussions about bullying with
their children before it occurs, Gardner said. "When children are
going off to a new school or a sleep-away camp, or they're showing
an increased interest in going online, be open and honest with them
about the things that could happen," he said. "Tell them when it's
appropriate to speak up and who to tell. If you have that talk, and
review it when school starts, it helps to encourage the lines of
Knowing what steps to take to stop a bully can be somewhat
trickier. For starters, kids often don't want their parents to get
involved at all.
In this case, Gardner said, let the child know that you're glad
he or she told you what was going on and that you'd like to talk
about what your child has done to try to reduce the bullying
behavior. Help the child assess whether those steps are working,
and let your child know that anytime it becomes overwhelming,
you're willing to step in.
He suggests asking your child what he or she thinks the next
steps should be if the bullying doesn't subside. Does your child
want to talk to a counselor? Would he or she like to have both sets
of parents and children meet with school officials?
Rauzi said it's also important to distinguish between bullying
and youth conflict.
"You can engage in conflict with your peers, and that's not necessarily bullying," Rauzi said. "Bullying is not just a one-shot deal. Getting picked on repeatedly is bullying. If there's an imbalance of power, one kid is physically bigger or more socially connected or more tech savvy, that's bullying. But, it's important that parents know the difference and they shouldn't jump into every youth conflict situation," he noted.
"We can help them work through a conflict," he said, "but bullying needs adult intervention."
Rauzi said it's also good to keep in mind that children and
teens are pretty resilient. If the bullying stops and kids can
re-establish their social networks, they probably won't have
lasting damage from bullying.
Of course, that's not always the case. As Gardner said, "adults
need to remember that bullying isn't just a case of 'kids will be
Gardner pointed out that "there can be significant and
life-threatening consequences when bullying occurs, and children
need the support of their parents and school, and they need to
intervene as soon as possible."
Pacer's National Bullying Prevention Center has more about
A companion article details
one teen's stand against bullies.
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